“Rock is dead.” At least, that’s a controversial claim jaded musicians, fans, and industry insiders have been making for years. In my opinion, it’s an incorrect and nearsighted assessment of the significant ways rock n’ roll’s chart-topping influence waned in the new millennium as hip-hop, reggaeton, and electronic music rose to global dominance. An infuriating resistance to evolution has caused rock’s current mainstream visibility to depend largely on ear-catching film or commercial placements, and pop stars who pick up the occasional guitar. But like it or not, the age of the rockstar is effectively over, leaving generations of rock fans who grew up on charismatic front men and seemingly never ending guitar solos to languish in a bizarre cycle of nostalgia and outrage targeted at new trends in popular music.
The rigidity of rock’s unyielding boy’s club has also hindered its relevance with younger audiences as the world demands more visibility of women and LGBTQ+ people in media, and holds archaic machista attitudes accountable. Just last week, Mexican Twitter was up in arms over Molotov‘s problematic classic “Puto;” a morbid anthem of homophobia that is over two-decades old. And while Julieta Venegas, Alejandra Guzmán, Juana Molina, and Shakira are undisputed Latin American rock icons, we are still having to bare witness to uncomfortable milestones for women. A perfect example is how last year Argentina had to pass legislation in order to ensure that at least 30% of future music festival line-ups include women. As the team at Chile’s Ruidosa Festival has found throughout their many studies, Mexican music festivals – which revolve heavily around rock music – also consistently fail to book women.
Imagining a new horizon for rock hinges not only on innovative musicians, but on the willingness of fans to cherish the classics while making space for new blood. This isn’t just an opinion, but wisdom heeded by the likes of Café Tacvba’s Ruben Albarrán and Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant. Latin America is fiercely loyal to the legends, and the reality is that walking into a bar, or blasting from the speakers of a passing car, you’ll seldom hear anything other than the stalwarts. It doesn’t quite matter where in the region you are, if rock music is playing, you’re likely listening to Soda Stereo, Maná, Os Mutantes or one of their brethren in the pantheon of rock en tu idioma gods.
But just because the second coming of Enanitos Verdes or Caifanes won’t be arriving any time soon, it doesn’t mean rock music is down for the count. The underground has far from given up on the genre’s revolutionary potential, with fans still packing into venues around the continent in hopes of thrashing, sweating, and getting a taste of the latest offerings in punk, shoegaze, metal, and more. To help you navigate the shifting musical tides across Latin America, we’re spotlighting ten different scenes reinvigorating local rock sounds.
It’s no secret Argentina is prime rock country, but much has transpired since the chart-topping glory days of Soda Stereo, Charly García, and Los Fabulosos Cadillacs. On one hand you have innovative new takes on stadium rock from the likes of El Mató Un Policía Motorizado, Perras On The Beach, and Bandalos Chinos, while on the other you’ll find women are leading a musical insurrection with the potential to re-energize the genre and captivate legions of new fans. Whether you’re singing along with solo powerhouses like Barbi Recanati and Tigre Ulli, or deep in the pit with Los Besos, Las Ligas Menores, Fin del Mundo, and Torneo de Verano, Argentine women are challenging gatekeepers and rewriting rock’s outdated narratives.
There is no denying the global ubiquity of salsa and reggaeton, but Puerto Rico has a tremendous rock pedigree that often goes egregiously overlooked. From local legends like Circo, Superaquello, Draco Rosa, and Dávila 666, to fresh sounds from Nutopia, Epilogio, Neysa Blay, Dogos, Fantasmes, Las Abejas, and Rosamalia, la isla del encanto is teaming with rockers ready and eager to blow you away. And don’t sleep on Boricua punk, where Los Pepiniyoz, Re-Animadores, Los Vigilantes, Ardillas, Campo-Formio, Ladrones, and Los Manglers will 100% tear your face off. Pro Tip: you can catch all these acts and more live at Santurce es Ley, El Local, and Club 77.
Similar to Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic is often typecast as the land of merengue, bachata and dembow. And while this is all true, musicians on Quisqueya have much more to offer than just traditional sounds. Renown folklorist Luis ‘El Terror’ Días collided rock with ancestral rhythms all throughout the 1970s and 80s, sparking a new wave of creative expression and paving the way for modern fusion masters like Xiomara Fortuna, Rita Indiana, and Riccie Oriach. If straightforward rock is more your speed, we recommend checking out groovy offerings from The Cat Lady, Solo Fernández, Tangowhiskyman, and Löst.
Look, Mexico has given us some of the most iconic Latin American rock bands of all time. Just think about the stadiums Café Tacvba, La Maldita Vecindad, Caifanes, and Molotov are still able to pack today. The current generation of Mexican rockers is stepping out of these lengthy shadows by diving head first into post-rock, grunge, surf, and shoegaze, sharing personal stories in new musical languages. Some of the finest examples include El Shirota, Belafonte Sensacional, Margaritas Podridas, Vaya Futuro, Elis Paprika, Vyctoria, Los Blenders, Los Mundos, and Silver Rose–and you really shouldn’t sleep on any of them.
At the top of the 2010s, Costa Rica’s garage scene exploded off the hype surrounding bands like Ave Negra, 424, Niño Koi, Floriandroids, and Zopilot! However, while many of these scraggly kids have hung up their guitars, the scene remains vibrant as ever. Monte and Las Robertas are still heralded as influential trailblazers of Tico garage, while fresh voiced Los Waldners, Dylan Thomas, Abbie, Queridos Edificios, Mala Leche, and Nanuka have kept the torch burning by dipping into shoegaze, post-punk, and hardcore.
Let’s hang out in Central America a little while longer. There are fantastic rock bands coming up around the region–just listen to Guatemala’s Asimov, El Salvador’s Cartas a Felice, Honduras’ Atomic Rose, and Panama’s Cienfue. But perhaps the strongest connective thread comes from metal, which regularly draws out thousands of fans to shows and festivals for massive headbanging extravaganzas. Make sure to check out Voltar, Moan, Dreamlore and Araña from El Salvador, Advent of Bedlam, Totem and Dumah from Costa Rica, and Belizean national heroes Verge of Umbra.
Pinning down Chile’s shapeshifting indie scene can be tremendously difficult, with perennially strong showings in pop, reggaeton, and trap music vying for the spotlight. But rock music has remained a constant of radio and festivals long after the demise of foundational gods like Los Prisioneros, Los Bunkers, and Los Haivas. Today’s local guitar heroes invoke the pop sensibilities with which Chilean artists approach all genres, and include Niños del Cerro, Patio Solar, Marineros, Ases Falsos, Club de Surf, Camila Moreno, Paracaidistas, Chini and The Technicians, Yaney, El Cómodo Silencio De Los Que Hablan Poco, and the recently defunct Playa Gótica.
Brazil’s musical universe is the stuff of legends. Dig deep enough into whatever genre catches your ear and you’ll discover a multitude of bands and artists creating refreshing, nuanced sounds. Rock music is no exception, so if you’re a beginner start out with popular acts like Molho Negro, Brvnks, YMA, and FingerFingerrr. Brazilians also have an affinity for psych, no doubt fueled by lingering nostalgia for the age of tropicalia, so dive into the wavy soundscapes of Boogarins, Bike, RAKTA, Tagua Tagua, and Winter. Special shout out to the women of Brazilian punk, where Charlotte Matou Um Cara, Cosmogonia, Bulimia, Ratas Rabiosas, and Sapataria release a constant stream of politically charged records eviscerating discrimination, corrupt government institutions, and bogus beauty standards.
Rock scenes in general are often competitive and pretty aggressive, but over in Ecuador the poppy, melodic sounds from local bands are a reflection of the humor and laidback rapport musicians have cultivated for years. Enjoy the buena onda slacker vibes of Alkaloides, La Máquina Camaleón, TAYOS TAYOS TAYOS, La Madre Tirana, Cometa Sucre, Lolabúm, Da Pawn, and many more.
Even though this is a list about Latin American rock, there is no denying the staggering talent of Latinx rock bands in the United States; not to mention how many of these were founded by musicians from beyond our borders. There isn’t necessarily a nationwide Latinx rock scene, but parachute into each major city and you’re bound to discover some bone-crunching talent. Chicago boasts buzzy crews like Divino Niño, Girl K, and French Police, while in LA you’ll find Prettiest Eyes, The Altons, and Tropa Mágica. Spend some time with Las Nubes (Miami), Tres Leches (Seattle), Las Rosas (NYC), and Sub-Sahara (Dallas), and remember to keep your ear to the ground, because you never know when the next great band will pop up in your own hometown.